I remember sitting on the plush bench at my grandmother’s dressing table delicately touching all of the glass bottles filled with fragrant light amber-colored liquids and soft brushes that emitted light powder when I fluffed them on the apples of my cheeks. Billie Holiday sang on an old record player in the corner of the room, a long slim cigarette was perched between my grandmother’s arched fingers as she slipped on a pair of low heels and straightened her hose. My feet curled up under me, my face propped in my 10-year-old hand, I watched her in the mirror as she softly sang along.
It was a quiet song about love but it seemed sad somehow, and I told my grandmother so.
“There is nothing as quiet as the sound of a breaking heart,” she said. I didn’t now what she meant. At the time, I didn’t know that she was talking about my mother or that I’d think of her saying those words many, many times over the years in the future.
My friend Stefanie sits across from me on the back porch of her father’s house at the edge of the county line. She weeps quietly. We haven’t said a word in more than an hour—silently huddled together on the porch swing swaddled in old quilts and knitted hats, passing a bottle of bourbon back and forth between us in an attempt to fight off the freezing temperatures and the sadness. It doesn’t work on either. And it doesn’t matter how angry she is or how loud she yelled at him, six years just slipped away silently in the night only leaving behind a shared couch and washer and dryer and joint custody of two dogs. My nose is so cold, but I don’t dare make a sound. When she wordlessly hands me the bottle, I swirl it around in my hand and obediently bring it to my lips. Tonight, I don’t make the rules.
Icy rain falls through the towering oak trees in the backyard and it sounds like tiny porcelain beads falling on a glass table top. I’m reminded of my grandmother’s dressing table and I absentmindedly begin to hum an old Billie Holiday song. My off-key voice breaks her silence.
“Will you go with me to pick up the dogs tomorrow?” she asks.
“I’ll probably need a truck to move the couch next week.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Will it always hurt like this?”
“So much for a happy ending, huh?”
“There are no happy endings,” I tell her and pass back the half-depleted bottle with a smirk. “Endings are the saddest part.”
“Because it’s just over,” she agrees.
“Yep,” I say. “And if it’s been happy, you’re sad to see it over, and if it’s been sad, it’s still sad because there’s no hope of it getting better. And we always miss the sad parts too.”
Stef is quiet again and I rock my body slightly causing the swing to pick up a slow and steady rhythm.
“I don’t think you’ve been here since college. High school maybe,” she says.
I had just been trying to figure out how long it had been since I’d visited her dad’s house. At least more than a handful of years. It’s a strange thought because I practically lived at this house my senior year in high school. Everything is exactly how I remember it. The forks are in the same drawer, the leather couch in the basement has the same tear in the center cushion, her father’s bourbon stash is still in the same corner cabinet. Having a history with someone that spans two decades is a funny thing. It adds a layer to your friendship that newer ones are missing. Those new friends are great, but they haven’t taken a 10 hour car ride with your grandparents to Myrtle Beach, they haven’t listened to your mom and dad fight in the next room, they haven’t bleached the carpet after dropping a plateful of spaghetti on your mother’s favorite rug, they haven’t sat in the backseat while you learned to drive, or barely contained their giggles while you were given the sex talk. They weren’t always around for the end of relationships or the start of relationships. Not all of them remember who you were without that boyfriend in the picture.
“It hurts,” Stefanie whispers. “I can actually feel it in my chest, the aching.” I don’t say anything, I just fold my body over hers on the swing and pry the bottle from her fingers.
My little brother says I am famous for my “I Have a Dream” speeches. The ones where I swoop in in the final 15 minutes of the finale and deliver with excitement, heartfelt passion, and tears, to remind everyone that we are lucky and above all, that we will be fine. He says I always know the right things to say.
I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about, and right now, I’ve got nothing.
“I won’t let him see me like this,” Stefanie quietly resolves. “He won’t see me crying and broken.”
“That’s right,” I agree. “The best revenge is moving on and getting over it.”
She nods somewhat confidently. “And just think,” I say, “there are so many other beautiful reasons to be happy.”
Tonight, we’ll finish that bottle of bourbon, uncaring of the headaches we’ll have tomorrow. Tonight we will cry and curse and call love names. Tomorrow, we will be better. Our lives belong to the people who love us. My Billie-holiday-loving grandmother used to tell me that too. What she didn’t tell me was that it wasn’t ever going to be just one person who loved us, so our lives would never be in just one person’s hands.
Stefanie will call me in the morning at 11. “I haven’t cried yet today.”
I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way